You are the Lord: there is no other

*** This hymn echoes a Scriptural diatribe against public idolatry.



This hymn responds to challenging assertions set forth in Isaiah 45.1-7. Cyrus, king of Persia is named as the Lord’s anointed, that is, Christ. The Lord declares himself the armourer of Cyrus, though you (Cyrus) do not know me. Not only that: the Lord makes weal and create(s) woe. We are challenged to live with an image of God uncomfortably broader than a domestic companion.

Isaiah 45 is part of a longer diatribe against idolatry of all kinds. I am the Lord, and there is no other. It will not do to favour the bits of God’s image that are palatable while ascribing the ‘difficult’ bits to other supposed forces. In crude terms: life is one, and is not to be artificially separated into good and bad bits.

A driving first line, a kind of hammered refrain, sets the tone for each stanza; for the first four verses that line is “You are the Lord: there is no other”. The following lines all echo the assertive style of the first; there is something relentlessly aggressive about their style and tone, like “Now Hear This!” Throughout my life I have tended to avoid the issues raised by this passage; I have in any case only rarely heard these issues addressed from the pulpit. The hymn attempts to remedy this defect.

The first verse declares that God is the Lord of all the earth and its peoples; in a global world (not flat, as in the time of Cyrus) ‘from dawn to sunrise, all are to know there is no other’. Here is the clearest possible mandate for speaking to the heart of superpowers and holding them to account in God’s name.

‘You make shalom, you own disaster’: this line paraphrases the assertion I make weal and create woe. Shalom is the original that is translated as weal, but the word translated as woe means literally evil. ‘Disaster’ doesn’t catch the force of evil, and is chosen simply to fit the metrical scheme; the point is made nonetheless, that what mortals hold to be evil is to be charged to God’s account.

In an earlier version of this hymn the third verse began and ended ‘…you choose your people … all are to know your chosen people’. This understanding was challenged as being at the root of “the horrendous problems of the Middle East today”. A new understanding emerged, that, while giving special honour to the Jews as God’s chosen people, all peoples may and should be honoured no less. Whatever evil may be ascribed to God’s choosing, faith is certain that God wants none to suffer oppression; it is the ‘true liberator’ of all peoples with whom we have to do.

Thus it is God who equips all ‘saviours’. They may not know the Lord, or understand that they are accountable to the Most High. They may not understand that the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places[1] which they plunder are given on God’s authority, that they are not free to exploit and abuse either people or places in their power.

With the fifth stanza the hymn takes an unambiguously Christian turn. Every armed saviour is subordinate to Christ, the ‘appointed Saviour, Jesus un-armed’, God’s ‘strength in weakness’, in whom weal and woe are perfectly integrated, the very ‘womb of shalom beyond disaster’.So, at the last, the hymn turns out to be, not primarily a praise-song of the Lord of all the universe, but a prayer: that God would ‘bring us’ (and it should by now be clear that ‘us’ means not some people but everyone) through ‘darkness’ to ‘dawn’ in Christ.

The hymn was completed on the birthday of Mary Timini and Ruth Carr, and named in celebration of them.

[1] What these are is open to interpretation. Contemporary possibilities include various fossil fuels.

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